In the 80s, found myself in London when the AIDS epidemic was moving forward. Hope had to be sought. I was a cyclist, a patient advocate in 2 major hospitals and a palliative home carer with 2 or more, dying from AIDS, men in their flats We knew nothing for certain. Barrier nursing was common sense. Home care service was not yet developed.
I used to cycle more than a hundred kilometres a week, from Streatham to Highgate. I was learning how to care with out running away when it seemed too tough.
The tabloids screamed out at me every morning, me thinking what could this mean for those so weak and vulnerable, isolated in tiny rooms or flats with no-one who cares?
But in reality awareness was developing. Some people showed their humanity, others didn’t, mainly out of fear.
I used those screaming headlines, pulled them out of their wire advertising cages on the streets, held them in front of me and walked into social security offices where I was soon listened to. Those advertising sheets of news print, with confronting headlines, parted people waiting in the queue.
I was part of the education.
I lived in Paris for a year during 1984. I had no intention of staying that long but once I got there I found my ex-flat mate, from my Sydney days, seriously ill and alone. E. was ill when he left Sydney and after weeks of him barely able to get out of bed in my Sydney flat, unable to fly, we found a passage single berth on a Polish merchant ship which was to get him home to Paris eventually and to where his family lived.
We both knew he could have the new disease although diagnoses by Sydney doctors was inconclusive and speculative.
His 4th floor flat was situated in Montparnasse and the windows looked out over to the Pasteur Institute where the blue lights in the laboratories burned 24 hours. White-clad technicians could be seen moving slowly around. We both knew the scientists we could see were searching for the unknown virus. We also knew the same virus was what was going to kill my friend.
To the right of the Pasteur Institute, Montparnasse cemetery was visible nearby.
No family members any-where to be seen. Once a week a chocolate mousse and 6 bottles of coca cola was delivered to his front door by a servant of his banker father. No-one wanted to visit. Fear ruled.
My French was phrase book only then.
My duties were soon obvious. Feed him, bathe him and take care of him while he was awake. We would sit watching those blue lit windows at night from his bed-side in the hope that those moving white figures would find something, anything to help his suffering as dis-ease after dis-ease ravaged him by the minute and, if really lucky, save his young life.
Common sense, I learnt during my own long hospitalization when I was 13 and 14 years old, clicked in. Soon after the Pasteur Institute made their announcement that they had isolated the virus, he died.
I have often thought of those workers in the blue lab. Later, and when reading about the huge dispute between the French and the Americans as to who did what when, I never once read about Francoise-Barre-Sinoussi.